Global Response to the Holocaust Part III – The Islands and the Boot: Cuba, Malta, Corsica, and Calabria (Italy)
To find a Holocaust-related “happy Jewish story,” we need to change continents and come to the island of Cuba, a welcoming refuge for the Jews since the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. We start in Santiago, where we visit Fidel Castro Memorial at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery and discuss the controversial dictator’s legacy and his attitudes towards the Jews, the Holocaust, and the State of Israel. We proceed to Havana next, where in the 1930s,the hostility toward Jewish immigrants from Europe fueled both antisemitism and xenophobia. We dig deep into the little-known story of Cuba as a safe haven for refugees from the Holocaust. We also visit a small Holocaust Memorial located in the most unusual of places: a Jewish hotel!
The Malta archipelago, the only country to welcome Jews without visas during World War II, is a tiny spot in the middle of the Mediterranean and easy to overlook: it remains unknown to most US travelers. This nation of less than half-a-million people embraces an astonishingly rich thousands year-old history that also includes a fascinating Jewish narrative. From Israelites sailing there with Phoenicians three thousand years ago, to the first Jewish traveler, a Biblical Paul, arriving in Malta in the first century CE, thorough the dark times of Hebrew slavery during the Knights of St. John’s rule in the 16th century, to today’s small but blossoming community.
Like Malta, Corsica, the “Island of beauty,” as the French call it, is not on the vacation map for many American globe-trotters. Yet, the island’s Jewish narrative reveals an irony of Omerta (Mafia’s code of silence) that led many Corsicans to risk their lives in saving thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi-occupied mainland France to escape deportation and death.
On visiting Calabria, we come to the Cosenza province to visit the Ferramonti Internment Camp Museum and learn about the “Camp like No Other,” a true Italian story. This is a story of Jewish survival thanks to the efforts of Italian soldiers and impoverished Italian villagers who worked together to save nearly 4,000 Jews. While in Calabria, we also learn about the south Italian Anousim story (“the children of the forced ones”) and discuss an amazing phenomenon in this part of the world – The Return of the Jew – growing number of people who rediscover their hidden for centuries Jewish heritage, want to learn more about it, and for many – that culminates in formal return to Judaism.
Our presenter Irene Shaland is the author of “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” and a multitude of magazine articles published in the US, Canada, the UK, and Israel. She regularly presents at conferences, museums, universities, special-interest group events, and other venues throughout the country.
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